Saturday, 8 March 2014

21st Century Learners - What Do They Want? What Do They Need?

This week I received a couple of student requests to speak on what I saw as important learning outcomes for 21st century students. The first request came via email from a very agitated grade 10 student who was not happy about how her year was progressing. The other came via our district's Student Voice group, who politely asked if I might attend one of their forums as a guest speaker. While the motivation for each contact was different, both requests dealt with the same topic - what did I see as the most important things students should be learning and getting from their education?

 The question intrigued me. Educators are quick to concentrate on achievement measures like exam scores and pass rates, but what these students are really talking about are personal competencies. "We're just not buying what your selling" the first student told me.  I turned the question back on her, asking "what is it that you're after then?"  I've since asked a number of other students the same question. The responses are informative and telling. Nobody comes back requesting more of a specific curricular subject. Instead, students want to learn about things that they feel they truly need, or that will help them succeed in life.

Such skills include basic and personal management, such as the ability to schedule and budget time and resources, and the ability to organize, manage and complete household tasks such as cooking, cleaning and laundry. Money management skills, including recognizing the need to earn, save, budget and appropriately redistribute wealth far outweigh requests for more math courses. Students want to learn how to set and attain goals,  and how to work towards them. Though not mentioned as often, perhaps because of the optimism of youth, how to constructively and resiliently deal with set backs would seem to to be equally important, but that might just be the old school teacher in me pitching in.

Dr Tony Wagner, of Harvard University's Change Leadership Group suggests seven skills that students need for their future.  Wagner's list includes critical thinking, collaboration, adaptability, creativity, initiative, the ability to access and use information and good communication skills. Its not too much of a stretch to see what students say they want fits inside what experts say they need. The challenge for educators is to find ways to engage students AND get them to work as active partners in their learning. We need to determine if "what we are selling" is still the right stuff, and when it is, how to package it in a manner so compelling that students will see it as something they want, need and are willing to work hard to attain. Students want to learn and teachers love to teach - matching these desires around meaningful learning outcomes will always demonstrate that education matters.

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